Operation Inherent Resolve Spokesman Colonel Steve Warren on Operation Inherent Resolve
Director, Office of Press Relations
MS TRUDEAU: Thank you, Colonel Warren. Thank you, all, to the press for joining us. Today we’re pleased to introduce Colonel Steve Warren, the Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman, live with us from Baghdad. We’re going to have Colonel Warren offer some remarks at the top, then we’re going to open it up for Q&As. I’ll be calling on you, because even though I’m familiar with you, Colonel Warren may not be. So what I’d ask is that you identify yourself and your outlet before you ask your question.
So first, sir, we turn it over to you.
COL WARREN: Well, thank you very much and good morning. It’s a great honor for me to have the opportunity to brief the State Department press corps today. I know you’ve got plenty of questions and we will get to those, but first I want to give you a quick overview of the military effort here in Iraq and Syria.
The coalition is fighting ISIL along three specific lines of effort: Number one, building partner capacity, which is our phrase for training and equipping the Iraqi Security Forces. Number two is advising and assisting indigenous ground forces for their operations, both in Iraq and Syria. And number three is airstrikes.
As a part of the wider 60-plus nation coalition, there are 18 nations present here in Iraq with about 6,000 coalition forces training, advising, and assisting the ISF. That breaks out to approximately 3,500 American and approximately 2,500 coalition troops. Training is an integral component to increasing the combat effectiveness of the Iraqi Security Forces – and when I say, for the rest of this briefing, the word – the letters ISF, what I’m referring to is the Iraqi military, the police, tribal fighters, and the Peshmerga fighters up north. We’ve provided basic training to about 17,000 ISF personnel, and we’ve provided additional specialized training in leadership, marksmanship, engineering, and medical skills to thousands more.
I’ve got a video that I wanted to show you of some of this training. It’s bayonet training, which is important; it helps instill a fighting spirit in the soldiers here in Iraq. So DVTS, if you can hear me, let’s roll the bayonet training video, please.
(Video was played.)
I can’t see the video, so someone will have to give me the high sign when it’s done.
MS TRUDEAU: It’s ready. Go ahead, Colonel.
COL WARREN: All right. Okay. So that was the bayonet training. Equipping is another component of enhancing our combat effectiveness. There’s been approximately $2.3 billion total from the coalition allocated to equipping the Iraqi Security Forces. Of that, 1.6 billion is U.S. funding and is done through the Iraq Train and Equip fund, or ITAF. Some of that buys 400 MRAPs, which are the mine-resistant up-armored vehicles, Humvees. We’ve purchased 6,000 AT-4 shoulder-fired anti-tank missiles, which have been essential to defeating truck bombs, which are a preferred weapon of this enemy. We’ve bought 21,000 M-16 assault rifles, 20,000 sets of body armor, as well as armored bulldozers, metal detectors, demolitions for quickly bypassing minefields, and of course, millions of rounds of ammunition.
Moving on to the advise-and-assist mission, on that, we have advisors with five Iraqi army divisions, four provincial operation commands – the Iraqi ground forces command, the two combined joint operation commands – one each in Baghdad and Erbil – a joint coalition coordination center with – where both the Kurds and the Iraqis army work together; the first Iraqi special operations force; and the Iraqi air force. So that’s where all our advisors are. The advise-and-assist mission takes many forms, including support for planning, operations, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and logistics.
The last of the three components, of course, are air support. I think you’re all familiar with that. Some stats as of January 13th: We’ve conducted a grand total of 9,627 airstrikes. That breaks out to 6,393 in Iraq, 3,234 in Syria.
Okay, so that’s that piece of it. Now I want to give you a quick operational update, kind of a once around the battlefield. So do you guys have a map in front of you? Can you see that map that I sent?
MS TRUDEAU: DVTS? Or – not yet, Colonel.
COL WARREN: No map? Okay. I’ll just walk through it, then.
MS TRUDEAU: We’ll get you guys the map.
COL WARREN: You’ll have to take – so we want to go with the one called “Opener Map.” It’s got a lot of red on it. That’s the one; perfect. Okay. So here go maps.
MS TRUDEAU: Sir, we --
COL WARREN: So --
MS TRUDEAU: -- here – Colonel Warren, just so you know, you’re briefing without the map in the up. So – there we go. Go ahead, Colonel.
COL WARREN: All right, great. So you can see a map in front of you. So on this – this is a map, kind of, of the operational area. Up obviously is north, down is south, and red is area roughly – this is kind of cartoonish, but roughly where the enemy has a presence. So we divide our operations in close and deep fights. The close fights are represented on this map by stars. The deep fights are represented by circles.
I’ll talk about the close fights first through our current operations. Over the past week in Ramadi – this is star one, lower right-hand corner of the map – the CTS, or Counter-Terror Service, continued clearing south and east through the city center. They’ve cleared the Grand Mosque, the al-Haq Mosque, the agricultural college, the industrial center, and the Malab soccer stadium. The Iraqi army advanced nearly 5 kilometers and cleared the security service building – all this done with the support of 28 coalition airstrikes over the last week alone. In addition, Iraqi engineers have repaired the Qassim bridge. None of that’s visible on this map, but I just wanted to give a sense for what’s happening there. Additionally in Ramadi, Iraqi Security Forces have assisted hundreds of civilians who came to them for help. The ISF gave them food, water, medical attention before they were moved out of the area and into a safer location.
Moving around the map, I’m going to move to Baiji, which is star number two. So on the right-hand third of the map about halfway up and down, that’s Baiji – the Iraq – where the Iraqi army, the federal police, the Popular Mobilization Forces all work together to maintain security of the oil refinery and they continue to conduct clearing operations in the Makhoul mountains to the north of Baiji city.
Moving along to Sinjar, which is star three, center of the map towards the top, coalition forces continue to support the Peshmerga security operations there using dynamic airstrikes.
Dropping back down to the bottom of the map, Fallujah is star number four. Several ISF units are in position around that city and they’ve begun operations to isolate enemy forces there.
In western Anbar province, from star five and moving northeast, which would be kind of to the – from star five up and left, the ISF recently defeated an enemy attack near a town called Barwana, which is south and east of Haditha across the Euphrates River. The ISF maintain their positions there with the support of coalition airstrikes, which in one instance over the last several days killed 60 ISIL fighters with a single airstrike.
Around the Mara line, which is off the map all the way to your left at star number seven, vetted Syrian opposition forces are operating and have recently seized the village of Harba and Qara Kubri from ISIL.
Star eight represents the Tishreen dam. That’s also in your upper left-hand corner of your map there. There Syrian Democratic Forces continue to hold despite repeated enemy attacks. The coalition has supported them with airpower, conducting ten strikes just as recently as Saturday to help repel a concerted enemy attack. Earlier in the week, friendly forces there were able to consolidate what we call the FLOT, the forward line of troops, between Tishrin and Ayanisa.
As a reminder, the SDF, which I’ll mention maybe again, is an umbrella group which consists of groups of Syrian Kurds, of the Syrian Arab coalition, Assyrians, and other ethnic groups in northern Syria that are all collectively focused on defeating ISIL.
Our deep fights shape the battlefield for future operations. Those are represented on your map by circles. We’ll start with circle number one, which is Mosul. Recently, U.S. aircraft struck a bulk cash distribution site, and this is part of our effort to disrupt ISIL’s finances. That strike, we believe, deprived ISIL of millions of dollars of operating cash.
Circle number two, which is in the center of your map and a little bit left, is Deir ez-Zor, where our focus is something called Operation Tidal Wave II, which is an operation to degrade ISIL’s illicit oil infrastructure. A couple of facts on that operation – since we began Tidal Wave II, the coalition has conducted 72 strikes against oil targets. We assess that our operation has reduced ISIL’s revenue by about 30 percent. We estimate that ISIL produced 45,000 barrels of oil per day before Tidal Wave II and is now only capable of producing about 34,000 barrels per day. So 45,000 before, 34,000 now.
And speaking of oil, so I have another video, and no military briefing would be complete without a strike video so I’ve got one for you. This is a video from a strike against a gas and oil separation point in Deir al-Zor from January 2nd. So DVIDS, go ahead and role that strike video.
(Video was played.)
MS TRUDEAU: Colonel, the video is complete.
COL WARREN: So that – what that video shows is (inaudible). It’s kind of hard to tell if you’re not used to looking at these videos. And although some of those strikes may have looked like misses, when you go back and take another look at it, what you’ll see is pieces and parts of that oil separation point kind of dropping off and chipping off and rendering that thing inoperative. And that’s because we target very specific parts of the infrastructure that we know are difficult to replace and will prevent ISIL from making quick repairs. So a majority of that infrastructure remains, but small yet critical pieces of that infrastructure are destroyed with our precision strikes.
So to close it all out, the coalition is hitting ISIL across Iraq and Syria. We’re killing their leaders at the rate of about one every two days. We’re hitting them in the pocketbook. We’re enabling ground forces both in Iraq and Syria to take their countries back from ISIL.
So with that, I’ll take your questions. And I know they told me that at State Department, just like at DOD, the Associated Press gets the first question, so Matt, if you’re there, let’s --
MS TRUDEAU: Matt Lee is.
QUESTION: I am here.
MS TRUDEAU: Matt.
QUESTION: But I actually don’t have a question for you – well, actually, I do. Have you --
COL WARREN: Too late.
QUESTION: I’m wondering – this is the same question I asked Envoy McGurk when he was here not so long ago, and that is: Have you seen – I know that there was a concern about the Saudi-Iran split or rift having some kind of an effect in terms of the fight in Iraq. And I’m just wondering if that’s turned out to not be the case at all; if there is no rift, you haven’t seen any evidence of that between the – cooperation between the government and the tribes.
COL WARREN: We have not seen that, and that’s a good question, a fair one. We have not seen that manifest itself here on the ground in Iraq, but I will caveat that with a “yet,” which I think is probably --
QUESTION: Sorry, with a what?
COL WARREN: Sometimes these things take some time to --
QUESTION: “Yet,” I see. Okay.
COL WARREN: But as of now, we haven’t.
MS TRUDEAU: Great.
QUESTION: Okay. And is there anything that you’re doing specifically to address the potential for that to happen?
COL WARREN: On the military side, we’re not. I know the – on the State Department side, the embassy, they do regular engagements here with senior leaders of all the different flavors here, whether Shia, Sunni, PMF, et cetera. But on the military side, our focus really remains finding and defeating.
MS TRUDEAU: That’s great. I would just remind you, introduce yourself and your outlet.
QUESTION: Okay. It’s Arshad Mohammed of Reuters. Two questions: One, you said that there were sort of four components to the ISF – the military, the police, the tribal forces, and the Peshmerga, who are all getting training. Can you tell us roughly how much effort, how much training is going into each of those four groups? And can you tell us whether you judge it to be effective? And if it is effective, why is it effective now in ways that the training was not effective in the prior decade or more, or was not as effective as you had certainly hoped it would be in all the efforts after 2003 to train and equip the Iraqi forces?
COL WARREN: Sure. So the vast majority of our energy goes to training Iraqi army formations, whether those are Peshmerga – of which we’ve trained about 6,000 or regular Iraqi army in the south – that’s where the majority of our training is focused. We’ve also trained several thousand Sunni tribal fighters. But when I say we’ve trained them, I have to be clear. That program – the way that program works is that the Sunni tribal fighters will come to one of two locations – Taqaddum or al-Asad. And the Iraqi Security Forces train them, and we have forces who kind of oversee that training. So – but they are still getting trained and they count.
And then we’ve also – we also train the local and federal police here. And the leaders of our police training are the Italian Carabinieri, who have a robust presence here. They’re legendary in their police capabilities and how good they are. And of note – and the Carabinieri are great, we see them all the time, we have breakfast with them, and I think it’s particularly interesting to note that you’ll never speak with a Carabinieri officer without, within the first paragraph of your discussion, him pointing out that their uniforms were made by Giorgio Armani. So that’s a very point of pride for them.
Why is the training effective? I think the training was effective when we did it back in the 2000s, just as it’s effective now. The difference is that when we stopped training the Iraqi Security Forces in 2011, that force, through bad decisions made by the Iraq Government at the time, through some deliberate – some cases of deliberate neglect, that force became a hollow force. It deteriorated to the point of being combat-ineffective, so that when ISIL came screaming through, the force that was left – the force – the Iraqi army force that was standing was simply not up to the task. So I think that’s the difference. So the training isn’t much different, but what’s happening is now they’re being trained and they’re being used. So had ISIL showed up in 2010, I think the army – the Iraqi army of 2010, it may have been a different story. Impossible to know, though.
QUESTION: Why don’t you think --
COL WARREN: So does that answer your question?
QUESTION: Well, why don’t you think that the groups that you’re now training aren’t going to get hollowed out and stop fighting or --
COL WARREN: Well, it’s impossible to know that. I mean, I suppose it could happen. What we saw was – I mean, specifically, the prime minister at the time, Maliki, he did a couple of things that resulted in the Iraqi army becoming a hollow force and really kind of rotting from the inside out. He did things like relieve competent leaders, generals, all the way down to lower-ranking officers if they weren’t part of his tribe or part of his in-club, et cetera. He worked funding in certain ways. There was a lot of corruption. So this was truly an example of disastrous leadership from the top resulting in a disaster.
Will that happen in the future? It’s impossible to know. Certainly, we like to believe that the Iraqis have learned some lessons. We know that the current prime minister is much more focused on things like reconciliation and creating national unity. So we’re hopeful that he’ll do a better job than the last guy did.
QUESTION: And just last one, if I may: Who’s paying the forces? Is the U.S. Government actually making direct payments to any of these groups – to the tribal groups, to the Peshmerga?
COL WARREN: No, the Iraqi Government pays them all.
MS TRUDEAU: Great. Michel.
QUESTION: Michel Ghandour of Al Hurra Television. Colonel, is there any coordination with the Russian forces in fighting ISIL? And how do you view the Russian role in this regard?
COL WARREN: Thank you for that question. Can you ask the second half again? I saw – is there – I heard “Is there any coordination.” What was the second half?
QUESTION: If there is no coordination, how do you view the Russian role in this regard?
COL WARREN: I’m sorry, one more time. How do I view?
QUESTION: The Russian role in fighting ISIL.
COL WARREN: The Russian role, okay, got it. So we don’t coordinate with the Russians. We have a memorandum of understanding that we established with the Russians about two months ago in November, which focuses on de-conflicting airspace. In other words, it’s a set of procedures that we’ve agreed to to ensure safety in the skies – in other words, to prevent our aircraft and their aircraft, frankly, from crashing into each other in midair. So that’s really all we have with the Russians at this point. We don’t share targets with them. We don’t tell them what we’re going to do. They don’t tell us what they’re going to do. All we do is have some established procedures to ensure that our aircraft don’t bump into each other.
MS TRUDEAU: Thanks. Sir.
QUESTION: He’s not done, I think.
COL WARREN: On the second part of your question, so the Russians – our view is this: The Russian presence in Syria has, broadly speaking, been unhelpful. We find that their strike tactics are reckless and indiscriminate. We believe that they’re pursuing a path which is strategically short-sighted. And we find that a majority of their strikes support Bashar al-Assad and his forces. And we believe that Bashar al-Assad, frankly, is the root or one of the major roots of the problem here. It is his policies and conduct which frankly has, we believe, given rise in many ways to ISIL. So that’s how we feel about the Russians.
QUESTION: And I have one more, too. Syrian opposition groups have talked last week about U.S. troops controlling Tishreen Dam in Syria. Can you confirm that?
COL WARREN: No, the U.S. troops do not control the Tishreen Dam in Syria. Syrian forces do. Syrian opposition forces control it. They fought a very quick battle – I was surprised. They met with unexpected – to us, at least – unexpected success. When they rushed up on the Tishreen Dam, they seized it very rapidly. They were able to push ISIL off of that dam and establish a position of some high ground about 2 to 3 kilometers west of the dam to ensure that moderate range, intermediate range, indirect fires like mortars aren’t able to range them. So a very good operation supported by coalition air power. And since then, they’ve beaten back a handful of fairly determined offensive operations.
MS TRUDEAU: Great. Justin, we’ll go to you, and then Ros. Please introduced yourself and your outlet.
QUESTION: Colonel Warren, Justin Fishel, ABC News. What’s the status of – I hope we weren’t just talking about this dam, but the Mosul Dam. There’s a lot of concern that that – the integrity of that dam is reaching a critical point. What would happen if that dam gave way? And what are you doing to protect against that?
COL WARREN: Well, there has been some – we are a little bit concerned about that dam. When ISIL seized the dam a year or so ago, they did two things: One, they chased away all of the workers; two, they stole a lot of the equipment that was there. Since then, Iraqi – we, of course, retook the dam, but maintenance has not kept up to pace. So that is concerning. The Iraqis have – now they’re working with a private company, an international company to let a contract to restart repairs on that dam. So that’s moving along. We’re confident that once that – once those repairs restart, we think the situation will improve.
If that dam were to go, I think it would be a problem, right – I mean, it’s potentially catastrophic. And there’s all sorts of models – and the engineers really are the experts in that. But what we’re focused on is really not that dam. That’s not the – the CJTF-OIR is focused on ISIL. The Iraqi Government is focused on that dam.
MS TRUDEAU: That’s great. Thank you. Ros.
QUESTION: Hi, Colonel. Rosiland Jordan with Al Jazeera English. I have three quick questions. I’ll just put them all out there. First off, the 98-kilometer border between Syria and Turkey that everyone have been focused on in terms of trying to keep foreign fighters from coming from Turkey into Syria – what is the progress in trying to finish up closing up that gap on the border?
The next question is the one that people always like to ask, which is: When will the coalition and Iraqi forces try to retake Mosul? How far away in terms of time are we from seeing that offensive?
And then finally, yes, we are seeing the work that’s being done down in Ramadi and Fallujah. What’s being done to help the Iraqi military and the local police actually hold that territory so that ISIL can’t retake it? Because it seems that was something that was a real concern early on in the fight against ISIL. Thank you.
COL WARREN: Right. Thank you, Ros. Three great questions as I expected. Syria-Turk border progress. So that stretch of border – we call it the Manbij pocket. And that is the area between the Mara line to the west and the far western edge of what friendly forces hold – essentially the Kurds, the Syrian democratic forces. So that Manbij pocket, it’s a problem for us, right – it’s a problem for everyone. So we’ve got friendly forces to the west of the Mara line who are fighting their way east. Those forces are supported by Syrians who actually trained with us in the now defunct Syria train and equip program that was turned of last summer. But those forces remain in the fight. They remain in contact with us. They deliver us some exceptional targeting information that we’re able to leverage to good effect. So that – but I’ll tell you, that’s a tough fight right now. From what I’ve seen, the imagery I’ve looked at, it’s very much a World War I style situation. You’ve got trench lines, bunkers, berms, and it’s a fairly static fight right now. There is – in small spots of tremendous tactical ferocity, but they’ll battle heavily over feet or inches even. So that’s what we have on the Mara line.
To the other side, where the Syrian Democratic Forces, primarily Kurdish, have kind of extended a little bit west of Kobani, that’s really become their limit of advance, so they’re not going to go any further.
So we’re continuing to support the friendly forces at the Mara line who are fighting their way – who are fighting their way east. Additionally, by seizing that Tishreen dam, what we’ve done is sever a fairly significant supply line between the Manbij Pocket and the rest of ISIL’s holdings on the east side of the river. So that’s going to be – cause a little bit of a problem for this enemy as well.
When Mosul – so Mosul obviously – and you heard – maybe you heard the Secretary of Defense yesterday speak out of Fort Campbell. He identified that as one of the two centers of gravity of this fight, with Raqqa being the other center of gravity. ISIL thinks of Mosul as the capital of the Iraqi portion of their so-called caliphate, and it’s really one of the keystones to collapsing the entire organization.
Difficult to say when. The Iraqis are working on the plan now. We are working with the Iraqis to advise them on how to manage the logistical piece of it, how to manage the integration of air and ground operations and other things. But frankly, there isn’t yet a publicly established timeline, and it’s going to happen on – at – on the Iraqis’ timeline. They have to reset after some fairly tough fighting in the Euphrates River valley. They have to generate the combat power necessary to seize Mosul. And this is all going to take some time.
So I don’t have – there is no answer yet on when.
How are we helping hold Ramadi?
COL WARREN: So the plan to hold Ramadi is, we think, a solid plan. As the Iraqi army clears neighborhoods, they transition those cleared neighborhoods over to either Iraqi police – in some cases federal, in some cases local – or to the tribal fighters, the tribal volunteers. So those are the two groups of personnel, both of whom have been trained by the coalition, who are designated to hold the territory inside of Ramadi.
And on top of that, of course we’ll continue to see, I think, a robust presence of regular Iraqi army kind of in the outer ring. So I think we’ll – what you’ll see is police and tribal fighters inside the city, and then Iraqi army outside the city to help hold that territory. And then, of course, it’s the continued push, right? I mean, we’re pushing through the Euphrates River valley, which is north of Ramadi, and we’re continuing to eat up enemy forces that are there. This fight that we recently had in Barwana was a terrific example of what we see when Counter-Terror Service, who are really the elite forces in the Iraqi army, regular Iraqi army – in this case it was the 7th division – and tribal fighters – all that together, then fought really as a single unit.
The – really the hero of that battle is a Major Razzaq, who was a Counter-Terror Service battalion commander. He led the Counter-Terror Service battalion that moved up from al-Asad to Barwana. He rallied personally – just using the force of personality and professionalism, he was able to rally the tribal fighters as well as the 7th division fighters that were there. They came together and they delivered an old fashioned whipping on the ISIL fighters that were trying to seize Barwana.
So a great example of what right looks like, and we hope to see more of it.
MS TRUDEAU: Great. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Nadia Bilbassy with Al-Arabiya Television. I actually have three quick questions, but Ros asked one of them. But just to follow up on Mosul, if the Iraqi army has been able – and this is a big if – to take Mosul, does that mean that ISIS forces will be consolidating mainly in Syria now after losing all the major cities, whether it’s Ramadi and Mosul and Sinjar?
And second is you said that the Sunni tribes, who many people believe they are vital in sustaining the successes in Iraq. You said they’ve been trained by Iraqi forces in Taqaddum and Ain al-Asad. Is this any plans? Because they often complain that they don’t receive enough arms, and they have not been really directly armed. Any plans of arming them, whether it’s by the coalition forces or via the central government in Baghdad?
And finally, you said that the oil fields that under ISIL control have been curtailed from 45,000 barrels a day to 34,000. I’m just wondering – I mean, the number looks insignificant or small at least. What is it that stop you from hitting them more, especially that you have almost a year of operation in Iraq and relatively shorter time in Syria? Thank you.
COL WARREN: Great questions. Can you – I’m sorry, can you re-ask me the second question about arming? All I caught was “arming.” I got “where will ISIL consolidate,” I got that.
COL WARREN: I got the oil question. What was the middle one?
QUESTION: You often hear a complaint from the Sunni tribes that they have not been armed directly. And you know they are very important to sustain any successes. Any plans of arming them or – via the coalition or the central government?
COL WARREN: Yeah. Okay, great. So your first question, where – what’s ISIL going to do next, really, is what you’re asking. Will they consolidate in Syria? What’s going to happen as we continue to put this pressure on them? Well, it’s difficult to predict, frankly. We believe that they will kind of contract around their two centers of gravity, right – Mosul and Raqqa, right. That’s going to be their natural inclination. They’ll want to defend the castle. And as you receive pressure externally, in a perfect world you defend the castle out on the flats first, but then as you receive pressure, you come back to the ramparts and continue to defend the castle from inside.
But I believe, and we believe and we’re confident, frankly, that it doesn’t matter where they consolidate; their defeat is inevitable. That’s coming.
Arming the Sunnis. The Sunnis are armed by the Iraqi Government using weapons provided – weapons and equipment provided by the coalition. So the coalition provides the weapons to the Iraqi Government, and that – those weapons and equipment are then distributed to either the Iraqi army, tribal fighters, Peshmerga depending on need and depending on where the priority of supply is based on the tactical situation on the ground. So early on in this fight, the Peshmerga really received the priority of arming. When the line kind of stabilized up north, priority shifted to the Iraqi army here kind of in central Iraq. And then as the Ramadi piece has developed, we’ve seen more and more priority move to the tribal fighters. So we advise the Iraqis on this, but at the end of the day it’s their decision.
Oil. One-third is, I think – I don’t think one-third is small. I think one-third is moderate, maybe, but it’s not small; it’s a third. Why only a third after a year? And that’s a very fair question, and I’ll tell you exactly why: We’ve been striking oil targets since the very first day. On the very first day of this conflict, Admiral Kirby, I recall, stood on the podium in the Pentagon and read out that we had struck an oil target. So we’ve been striking oil from the beginning. But our strikes initially were ineffective.
We didn’t know that at first until the operation to seize or to kill or capture Abu Sayyaf. When we captured Abu Sayyaf – or killed Abu Sayyaf, captured his wife, and took – we really got a trove of intelligence out of that. And as we went through the intelligence and analyzed it and figured out how this enemy works his oil operation, we discovered two things. One, we discovered that the strikes that we had been doing up till that point were not as effective as we had hoped; and two, we discovered more about how the operation works.
So late summer – August, September timeframe – we reset. We really re-examined our target sets. We brought in some experts to determine how can we hit these oil sites and damage them but not wipe them off the map – because remember, we have to think about life after ISIL as well. So we don’t want to completely wipe these infrastructures – these pieces of infrastructure off the map. What we want to do is stop them from working. And that’s what you saw in the video, right? We could easily have flattened that entire oil rig that we showed on that video, but we didn’t. What we did is used very precise strikes to destroy key and critical components of that system. And it’s components that are either difficult to acquire and replace because they require a level of sophistication to install them or operate them, or they can’t manufacture them there given their limited resources in Syria, et cetera. So we’ve done this great analysis, very thorough and detailed analysis of this system, and then we pick very specific spots within that system that will break for longer. So we don’t want to destroy in this case, because we want it to be able to come up and running when the war is over. But we want to break it for a longer period of time, and we think that’s what we’re accomplishing --
MS TRUDEAU: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, Colonel. This is Tolga Tanis with Hurriyet. I have a couple of questions regarding these clashes in Manbij pocket. How many ground forces are joining the attacks against ISIS which are trained and equipped by U.S. in Manbij pocket, in the Mara line?
COL WARREN: I don’t have an exact number. It’s – I mean, it’s a small number. It’s in the 150s, I think, of forces trained by us. But in this case, what’s in a number, right? I mean, these are personnel who have the most powerful weapon on the battlefield, which is communications with a B-1 bomber. So that makes one person worth a lot more than just one person.
QUESTION: Are they still paid by U.S.?
COL WARREN: That’s a great question. I don’t know. I can check on that, though. We’ll get you an answer on that. I don’t know if we’re paying them or not.
QUESTION: And also, what’s the role of the Turkish Government in this fight? Because today Turkish prime minister said that 200 ISIS militants will be – are killed as a result of the Turkish artillery shots against ISIL targets. Are they supporting this offense against ISIL target in Manbij pocket?
COL WARREN: Well, we’ve seen the Turkish fire some artillery to very good effect in the Manbij pocket. We’re continuing to work with the Turks to tighten up our coordination with them on these artillery strikes that they do in that area, but yes, they are targeted.
QUESTION: So they are not under the umbrella of coalition, these artillery shots?
COL WARREN: They are, but we still need to work on our coordination.
QUESTION: What kind of coordination? Can you more – I mean, give some specifics? The targets, or the groups that they are supporting – what kind of coordination are we talking about? If they are --
COL WARREN: Well, we want to ensure that we know exactly where they’re going to strike before they strike. And this is always the case in any – in any type of a large outfit with as many moving parts as we have in this coalition, that’s going to happen. So we’ve identified is the Turks filling a need, right? There were some weather problems; we were having difficulty providing the type of air power we wanted to provide, and the Turks filled in with artillery fire. So it was perfect. It happened the way it was supposed to happen.
But my point is this is a disparate battlefield, right? We’ve got a headquarters here in Baghdad; we have operations being conducted all the over on the Mara line. We need to continue to work on finding our level of --
MS TRUDEAU: Last one, Tolga.
QUESTION: Last one. So it happened – the same thing last weekend – last week. When I asked Pat Ryder during the CENTCOM briefing, he said that the attacks of Turks – that they are conducting against ISIL are not under the force of the anti-ISIL coalition. So we have host countries, Syria and Iraq; we have two blocs, Iranian and Russians and the U.S.-led coalition; and we have Turks as a force in this fight?
COL WARREN: It’s a very crowded battlefield.
MS TRUDEAU: That’s great. Dave.
QUESTION: Hi, Colonel. Thanks for this. I’m David Clark from AFP. I’ve seen reporting here that suggests that you may be tiring out your best forces, and now there are caveats on how they are able to operate. The Kurds have reached the limit of what they would regard as Kurdish lands now almost. In Syria, certainly, they probably won’t go any further west and there’s a question about whether Peshmerga forces could be used effectively in Sunni Arab Mosul. And now your Counter Terrorist Services, Colonel Razaq and his men, they fought a very big fight in Ramadi. They’re probably going to be moved on. And behind them, the other forces are less experienced and your best forces are tired or have reached the limits of their territory.
Is it – is this sustainable?
COL WARREN: Yeah, that’s a fair question. We believe it is sustainable. A couple of things – you’re right on the Kurds. They kind of – they’re probably not going to move too much further south, although there is still some room to work. On the CTS, the Counter Terrorist Service, yeah, they are tired. They are the elite force in this army, but it’s a war, so your elite force is going to get tired in a war. That’s how it is. And they’re very proud and very effective and they’re going to continue to fight, we believe. They’re a good, solid force.
And the Iraqi army, who is really the main bulk of the combat power here, we’re watching them get better every day. It was the Iraqi army who provided the bridging assets across the Tharthar Canal in Ramadi, which allowed the CTS to cross and kind of be the tip of the spear into downtown Ramadi. But it’s the 8th Iraqi Army Division, which is clearing from the southeastern corner of Ramadi north and west. It was the Iraqi 7th Army Division, again, certainly led and rallied by CTS, but it was an Iraqi army division who in Barwana provided the bulk of the combat power there. And it was Iraqi engineers driving armored bulldozers, Iraqi tankers driving M1 tanks down the streets of Ramadi that really have allowed the situation there to stabilize. Nothing can defeat an enemy truck bomb faster than an M1 tank.
So we are seeing the Iraqi army bring its game up. We’ve – again, we’ve trained over 16,000 of them. We’re going to continue to train them. We’re going to continue to train them at a – to a higher and higher level, and we believe that they will over time develop the strength and combat power needed to finish off this fight. And remember, it’s important to know – one of the things we know in the army is that success breeds success, right. Confidence builds more confidence. And so the Iraqi army has seen a fairly good string of victories. We’re kind of going at the clip of about a major city a month, if you think about it, right – Tikrit, Baiji, Sinjar, Ramadi – right. So the success is beginning to build on itself. We see the Iraqi army moving differently, we see the Iraqi army beginning to act differently. We are focusing our training in certain areas that we know will amplify that even more.
So certainly, everything you point out is something we need to think about and keep an eye on, but we believe that there’s a plan in place that will move us ahead.
QUESTION: And you don’t think the Iraqi Government will be tempted to fall back on the Popular Mobilization Forces in areas that have been recaptured?
COL WARREN: Well, it’s an Iraqi Government decision. We would prefer the Iraqi Government to lean most heavily on the regular army and the CTS. I mean, we’ve been around a day or two so we understand that the PMF is part of the apparatus here, so I mean, we understand there’s a place for them. But what we want to see is the focus of the Iraqi Government and the kind of the lynchpin of the Iraqi security apparatus be the army.
MS TRUDEAU: Colonel, I think we have one more question. Kim, if you could introduce yourself and your outlet.
QUESTION: Thanks. Kim Dozier with The Daily Beast. As the Secretary of Defense yesterday asked that the Expeditionary Targeting Force has fully deployed and arrived in Iraq, can you shed any light on how it will coordinate with the Iraqi Security Forces and the Peshmerga?
COL WARREN: Kim Dozier needs no introduction here with anyone in uniform, so it’s great to see you. So the Secretary did announce that the ETF that he had ordered here is on site. And they will continue to build up their – establish themselves and get ready to begin operations. We are – I’ll be honest with you, and I know this is not the answer anyone wants, we’re going to be very hesitant to speak publicly about the ETF or about any other special operations forces. We believe that these forces draw their strength from operating in the shadows, from their secrecy, from the mystery that surrounds them, and we’re going to facilitate that by studiously ignoring any questions about them.
MS TRUDEAU: That’s great.
QUESTION: I wasn’t asking for anything tactical. I’m curious about how the Iraqi Government and the U.S. military will sort of coordinate who makes the call on strikes inside, strikes outside.
COL WARREN: Yeah. So in every case, every bomb that we drop in Iraq has an Iraqi Government official sign-off on it – every single one, 100 percent. And that’s important. So the lines of communication, the coordination mechanisms are long established. We have a joint operating center about 100 feet away from me here, where – which is chockfull of Iraqi generals, Iraqi officers, and coalition officers and generals. So the coordination mechanism is set and it’s strong, and so that will continue.
So all we’ll do is any additional asset that is plugged into this broader operation will simply plug into the already established lines. The commanding general, general – Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland has weekly engagements at the very highest levels of the Iraqi Government and Iraqi military. Over across the street at the U.S. embassy, the U.S. ambassador has weekly engagements with the very highest levels of the Iraqi Government as well.
So the connectivity is there. So any additional asset that comes in, it will just plug into that connectivity. Thank you.
MS TRUDEAU: That’s great. I want to thank Colonel Warren from – joining us from Baghdad. We’ll make sure we get the maps, the video links out to you soonest. This transcript will also be available and this video will be available at DVIDS. So thank you, Colonel, for joining us. Any last words?
COL WARREN: Thank you very much. I’ll tell you, we – so we did a Twitter town hall yesterday, which I’d never even heard of and didn’t know what to expect, but it was a lot of fun. I’m going to do another one. So if any of you out there are not following me, @OIRSpox, I encourage you to do so, and look out for the next Twitter town hall.
Thanks for this privilege. It’s been great. You guys asked terrific questions. You’re not nearly as scary as Admiral Kirby told me you were – (laughter) – and I look forward to doing this again. Take care.
MS TRUDEAU: Great. Thanks you guys. We’ll see you at two. Thank you, Colonel.